tv [untitled] February 5, 2012 1:00pm-1:30pm EST
sits in on a lecture with one of the country's college professors. you can watch the classes here every saturday at 8 p.m. and midnight eastern and sundaes at 11:00 a.m. naugatuck valley community college professor william foster teaches an english class in which students investigate relationships between literature and society. in this lecture professor foster discusses the history of the use of the "n-word" in american literature and culture with a focus on "uncle tom's cabin" by harriette beecher stowe and "adventures of huckleberry finn" by mark twain. naugatuck valley community college is located in waterbury, connecticut. also, please note that some viewers may find language in this hour-long program offensive. >> good afternoon, class. >> good afternoon. >> today we're in english 102, composition and literature. we're going to be talking about two different things fl we'll start off our discussion talking about the use of the "n-word" in
both harriet -- don't even try it. harriet beecher stowe's "uncle tom's cabin" and we'll be talking about mark twain's huckleberry finn. there has been recent controversy, please excuse me, recent controversy talking about a publisher who is changing the "n-word" to. >> slave. >> slave and they're changing the engine word to indian because obviously a number of native americans are offended by that. this is not a controversy that has just started. this has been going on since day one. they came out in the 1860s and the idea is that since that point in time there's been a little bit of controversy. what we're going to do is start in the history because, as i said many times in class, you have to have a sense of history to understand literature. if you don't understand what the people were going through, what they were feeling, what motivated them to do what they
did, you lose it when we talk about drama, poetry, and fiction. let's talk about this. it's from ""the new york times"" from january of this year. mark twain used the "n-word" 219 times in huk fin. he was one of 1960s greatest? and little black kid said gangster rappers. as far as he was concerned that was the only person that would use it that way. that's the only way he has connection to t. let's take a look at another slide and see how we go. okay. this is a video that we watched. it is ignore the promotion at the bottom. it is the "n-word", divided we stand. when we were given an opportunity to see any number of interpretations of the word. if we went contemporary versions of how this word is used, we still have controversy, do we not? the controversy basically about what? someone help me. why is the controversy about the
"n-word"? >> because it's offensive. >> to certain people but not to everybody, okay? we have certain audiences that think they can use it and others who don't think they can use it at all. the idea is we got a chance to see there are many different definitions for the word. something that everyone has to admit to. we can't assume it only has one meaning. the idea is that its primary, a derogatory term to people of color. yes? >> yes. >> we can say black people, i'm sure we'll be okay. there are also the idea that it is who can use the word. so our discussion becomes less about language and more about control and power, yes? >> yes. >> okay. that's an important conversation. it's surprising to see how history and then to literature leads us to contemporary thought. when you think it, if i can control what you think, i can control what happens after that, sn okay? the fact that we say the "n-word" instead of nigger means
the control has already started. it's not a power of law, its a a power of social engineering. let's take a look at what else we have here, things we're looking at in terms of reviewing where we've gotten to today. this is a cartoon by a good friend of mine. the name of the strip is called secret asian man. don't confuse it with secret agent. he's asking him about political correctness. that will be part of our discussion as well. take alike at the dude with the guy in the green sneakers. i call you black. does that offend you? no. okay, david duke. if you don't know who david duke was, he was the head of the clue cluks clan. a very flamboyant member. it's more patronizing to use some label just for the sake of being pc especially since i didn't mean any offense. he's saying that his meaning should be taken more importantly than the word he used. you have to be sensitive to those who might be offended, thus, we have the reason for using the "n-word" instead of the word nigger.
but how am i supposed to know that? i'm not some mind reading gipsy. >> that's row main any, psychic, you bigot. if you stop and think about how many times we change our language for fear of offending someone. part of our discussion will be about that as well. we sit in our class during this discussion that in the 1970s, 1960s certain words were used with fair regularity. in media, in print, and no one was offended. we talked about all in the family where they use nigger, whop, kike. they were used in open forum. you understood because you knew the context. no one came after you because it sounded like another word. they didn't come after you at all. nowadays it becomes harder to explore these words as language and why we think they're appropriate and why we think they're not, particularly in literature. >> speaking of "all in the family" me and my little brother used to watch that every single
night. i didn't realize that it was offensive until i was -- >> please. >> i was just thinking about "all in the family" and me and my brother when we were little, we would watch it every single night. i didn't realize that it was offensive or that they were using offensive words until i got a lot older. >> it's interesting, too, a lot of people when you use the word a whole lot, when you use it around you a lot you sometimes forget there are some people who may find it offensive, yeah? being. we talked about other words that are used. we also talked about other forms of censorship. we talked about it's not just about race, sometimes it's about sexuality. sometimes it's about your sexual orientation. all of those are things we need to figure out exactly where we go in interprets of how we use language. let's continue in this. if you have questions, please ask them as we go along, okay? this is the classic illustrated version of "huckleberry finn."
it's a nice, easy way to find out about the literary classic. i believe you had said at one point you were curious that in the quote, unquote, youth version or young adult version if they taken the words out, okay? careful examination and even cursory examination shows that, no, they didn't. i've looked at these back as far as 1940s, 18930s. i have editions of them because i love having classic editions of works. i like to check them to see what the illustrations look like, that's what i'm into as well as the words. no. nigger is still used and indian is still used. by the way, deborah, can you tell me what they're changing the word to? what are they changing the "n-word" to? >> slave. >> slave. as if that somehow is less offensive. did you tell me the word slave was more offensive than you thought the word nigger? you thought the word slave was more offensive?
[ inaudible ] >> because of your? [ inaudible ] which is? >> hatian. >> thank you. it's important to have an appreciate when they change the word, do you think this is the end of it? will we be changing the word again because someone is going to say slave is too offensive, okay? let us think about what probably one of the most interesting uses of language in our society. the names of sports teams. the braves. the indians. the huskies, we already talked about that. you guys know that's going to be trouble. yankees. not so bad. university of massachusetts where i attended as college. the name of the team was redman, native american. it was a time when people decided that that's too offensive so they changed it to the? anyone know what the name of the
u. mass. team is now? the patriots. actually, they call them the minutemen. patriots, minutemen, come on, shut up. i was wondering as they changed the name from redmen to minutemen. are they going to call it the whales? that's an unoffensive creature. >> we can't use that. we'll call them the snail doves. they're offended too. the idea is looking for nonoffensive language we can wind ourselves on a slippery slope. let's take a look at a few more of these. then we'll go on to my notes on the board. this is a classic illustrated version of "uncle tom's cabin." very clearly imaged you see the evil slave catcher with a dog. you see the black man coming out of the swamp frightened. probably one of the most powerful images of "uncle tom's cabin" if you don't get everybody else dying and going to heaven.
the idea is you're capturing what the story is about. it's about slavery. when hair ret beecher stowe wrote this story, what do you think was in her mind? help me out. was she trying to like not be offensive or was she trying to be enlightening? what was she thinking? here you go. >> i think that she was trying to shock people and she's an abolitionist. she was trying to show the slavery -- the evil slavery. >> absolutely. now in her -- thank you. in her doing that she painted -- this is an early review of her work. she painted a very, very simplistic view of slavery. you had the kind of good slave -- i don't know why i'm going to him when i say that. the good slave owner and then you had the evil slave -- not you. you had the evil slave owner and you had the evil slave catcher. that was basically what slavery was about. you were at the whim of somebody. it was power. you were under somebody's sway.
you were, in fact, a slave. nothing was your own. it tells about the worst parts of slavery, okay? what would be the worst thing then to a mother to have her child stolen away from her, snok she did talk about that. the cover we saw -- wait a minute. there's a cover. here we go. crossing the ice flow. if you could only imagine, if you've ever been near an icy river where there were huge tugs of ice, imagine, this is literature, so she's using. >> imagery. >> you earned your "by the young brother. she's using imagery. it frightens me. she is so frightened of being kept caught and sold down the river and her baby being sold separate from her as she is jumping from one ice flow to the other to escape to free soil from where she was. >> she also lost her shoes and her feet were bleeding. >> brother, we've got to add that detail. >> she also lost her shoes and
her feet were bleeding as she crossed the river. >> this is the power of words that harriette beecher stowe was telling you about, to take you on a mental journey back into -- it wasn't that far back. the idea that even though her story was based on supposedly true events. if you didn't know this, she was challenged from day one. how dare you write this horrible story? slavery is not like that. slave masters. the idea was that they were offended. the idea that somehow she painted a picture that wasn't true and, no, we need to have a response to this. she went out of her way several years after the publication to go and find -- said these are the facts of this i was based on. in fact, she felt -- ordinarily what would happen nowadays? people would ignore it out of hands. sour grapes. of course i told a true story. she wanted to make sure people got a sense of what she was talking about. it was one of the most well-read stories in america for an
america that was illiterate, they chewed this story up. it was a big hit overseas. even if it wasn't in the control environment of the north. people in the south were dismissing it out of hand, stereotype, generalization. the idea was it was a major hit with any number of publications. she became independently wealthy. she had grown up dirt poor. she became so wealthy that her needs were taken care of for the rest of her life. she wrote other things as well. and the idea was that this was the beginning. women were not encouraged to write. women were not encouraged to have their own careers. as i said, it's so important to get a sense of the history of the time. did you have a question? >> no. >> okay. >> sorry. >> stop there. yes? >> especially focusing on the time period in itself with women writers. so many times in literature you think about kate chaupan. she had written about a story of
an hour in which her husband, she thinks her husband dies. women didn't have their security was their marriage. their security was in that household so if we were really thinking about the pivotal moment of women in history at that time, this was absolutely monumental to say the least. >> no question about it. thank you. the idea is you have to get a sense of what she was doing and why she was doing it. now, in terms of the literary mer rit, thank you, i was there. i was messing with you guys. in terms of the literary merit of her work, many people came after her for saying she created very simplistic stereotypes. that was, indeed, her purpose. a lot of critics dismissed this was very poor novel writing. how dare you? i understand what you're trying to do, you can do it better. i think they missed a point. she was trying to tell a story in as stark detail as she possibly could in a lies relief snap of what happened. who do we have?
let's go through the major characters of "uncle tom's cabin", yes? >> yes. >> we have uncle tom. we have little eve. everybody knows those two. uncle tom is presented as what? who can help me with the character analysis of uncle tom? >> protagonist. >> what are his characteristics? someone said. >> very religious. >> okay. what else? dude, no. it counts. >> i don't know if i need that. >> yes, you do. >> thank you. he was, like she said, very pious. very loyal to his master. even at the end of the book when he had legre as his master. he would follow him and be loyal to him even though he threatened to beat him silly, you know? >> even when he insisted that he beat another slave and uncle tom said, can you make me do anything but you can't make me
beat another slave. legre was painted in a stark contrast as the epitome of evil. my boss was simon legre, we have a reference for who that particular character is. he's an evil person. >> monster. >> he's a monster. question, comment? >> i was going to say, uncle tom, he's very a loyal man. he would always come back. >> no matter how badly he was miss treated. >> yes. >> okay. >> even towards the end of the story he was mistreated to the point where he almost had forgotten his beliefs in god but he went through with it and forgot about that. >> thank you. such an important stereotype, one that lives so long, is that when you say uncle tom and these are in the '60s and '70s, you were referring to a black person that no matter what white people did, you still loved and worshipped them. even to the point of your
own self-destruction. kind of a cold condemnation. you don't hear that so much now, thank god. yes? >> i think that's somewhat inaccurate. >> really? here we go. this is good. >> okay. >> go for it. >> i understand that uncle tom and that the term uncle tom is to portray a black person. i get that, however, he is still -- he wouldn't beat the other slaves. even though legre wanted him to become more of a head slave in charge of the others, he wouldn't do it. and i think that he was submissive but not to the point of betraying his own people. so he's still held to his beliefs. >> even though he was to the point of not worrying about his own safety, excellent point that he did have a good moral center. >> i think the other gentlemen, was it sambo. >> i'm so sorry. it was sambo. >> i would much rather be called
an uncle tom than a sambo, you know what i mean? >> absolutely. in terms of the characterizations from each character. i think you're absolutely right. it's often that when we look at a character -- a kark ra tur, we don't remember or have any idea of what the original was like. it's like someone saying this situation looks like we're rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. so the idea -- you get that, right? work with me. thank you. all righty. the idea is that why would that be considered a useless gesture? if i said this is like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. if you're in the sure, we'll pass it down. i know he knows. >> trying to sink. >> someone said? >> sink anyone. >> the idea is this is useless. some people don't know what the titanic was. that second movie notwithstanding. come on, every woman in here knows. don't try to front with me. here we go. let's move on in terms of slides, to the written notes. i want to take you someplace
else. this is a book called "where did i come from?" it is talking to young people about their own sexuality. it was written by several young men who were tired of not having the issue confronted directly. they did not have very graphic drawings in this. it was very, very simplistic drawings. they explained the act of sexual nature of when people loved each other. they kept it into an emotional frame. this group outraged many groups. how dare you? this is about the "n-word." how dare you take the power out of my hands to tell my child what sex is and then, indeed, draw pictures of it and have words to go with it. you! but the idea was this was an important book. i loved this book, but then i'd rather know than not know. but i do have an appreciation there are many people in society who would rather not know than know. okay? and this is perhaps the core of
our discussion. do we in fact -- this is linked in surprisingly to another topic, prohibition. do we say because there are two guys who don't know how to stop drinking, that we say nobody in here can drink anymore legally? so the same thing goes when we have a discussion of sexuality, okay snim' not going to ask because i only can be embarrassed of how many had that talk in high school when they took the boys to one word and the girls to another where they showed that horrible video. still trying to get those images out of my head. no, not mom and dad. the idea is it's about power, is it not? who has the right to share this information? society? the government? school board? okay. how was that discussion related to what happens with the "n-word", "uncle tom's cabin", and "huckleberry finn "." if the book's offending you as a teacher, i can't read this book
to my children. this book is horrible. look at this, it says "n-word" in t. even though i don't have any black children in my class, i think it would be wrong to teach that word to students. is that not a quandry for you as a teacher? how do you resolve that? yes. please. >> well, you can resolve it by giving them the history of the word to make it -- tell them why it offends you and why you at first didn't want to teach it because then they can realize what it actually means to you and not just seeing the word and thinking their own thought about it. >> thank you. now you're a teacher that wants to address the issue head on? >> yes. is it also possible for people to try to kuk the issue as well? >> yes. >> if you're the school librarian, not you, her, okay? if you're the school librarian, you had this book on the shelf. elementary school. let's make it hard for you. what are you going to do, elementary school? there's the microphone for you.
>> i guess i would just warn them fwirs what the book's about and tell them what it means. >> so you wouldn't take it off the shelf? >> no. okay. all right. >> in the restricted section. >> in the restricted section of the library, the free publicicte section. speaking of irony. oh, my god. >> actually, i really don't think children have any -- you know, then shouldn't be reading this book in the first place. >> gasp. >> only because twain himself said in a -- >> just a second. we're working with the equipment. stay tuned, folks. we'll be right back. check. check. thank you. >> all right. >> ohhh! >> twain said himself in offense of the brooklyn public library
banned his book saying it was crude and it shouldn't be read by, you know, zblirn ah. >> twain said himself he wrote the book for adults. he never meant children to read it. he said he -- yeah, he just basically said he wrote it for adults and he looked down on any guardian that would let their children read this book. because as the child -- i guess apparently his guardians let him read an unsensored version of the with him. kind of like -- yeah. it messed him up. >> curious. i was a bible scholar as a young man. those stories kept me straight. the story of gesabelle being trampled by horses. that kept me straight many a years. he does, indeed, have a point. please. >> i just wanted to comment on that. >> please. >> even though you didn't want
younger viewers to read it, i still think that that was a major part of the reason of why the book was so huge, because -- and the effect it had on society. not only were adults reading it but younger aged people were reading it also, maybe like teenagers, a little younger. so it had an effect on society because they're the upcoming new world so they were able to read the book and interpret their own thought, not what their parents think so really, i mean, even though he didn't want kids to read it, i believe that the younger crowd was the one to make it really a hit. >> thank you. i think that's an important part about that as well, is that it was the first -- huckleberry finn, first american novel, the first one ever written on a typewriter, it was the first one that was in jargon and supposedly written by a young person. so two totally different perspectives added to the pantheon of american literature which is amazing.
if you listen to it, it's on tape or you hear an actor do the part of huck finn. today we make fun of everybody. this was the first time it was supposedly -- the original title was the autobiography of huck finn. he changed it several times. it's mazing to me. it gives me a chance as someone from contemporary times to place myself in the body of a young man who was my age even though his background and experience is totally different than mine, okay? this is also a cover of tom sawyer from the illustrated comic series. this one here, happy to be nappy is one that we talked about as well. this relates to our conversation about censorship and sensitivity. bell hooks. love her work.
the book is about a young girl who glories in the wonders of her hair, okay? this goes above and beyond the incident we know of a certain shock job who used the word nappy in a negative way got fired and rehired by somebody else. somehow he was putting a real racial spin on this term. this particular instance the woman who brought this to her classroom, it was a school teacher in new york. we remember discussing this? >> yes. >> okay. school teacher is white. we have to mention that for sake of the story. brought it to her mostly urban students and said this is a book i want you to read to positive ? next phase of the story you already know. what happens is the parents of some of the black children, here's the part that always makes me make my eyebrows go to the top of my head, hadn't even read the book. the only thing they heard was what word? >> nappy. >> okay.
nappy. that's so negative. okay. then they understand that the teacher is white. so now you have no right to discuss with my black child, okay. how do you know she wasn't already glorying in the color of her hair. what's wrong with you? now they're upset and offended by the white teacher. what happens as a result? there is a referendum, and i'm being polite. i believe the word is kangaroo court but we're going to say referendum held at the school. principal, members of the school board, parents, teacher. it is out of control. it is accusatory. it is finger pointing, okay? it is almost a physical attack on the teacher, how dare you. now, not to their credit the school officials and administrators do not support the teacher. she gets fired for presenting what she thought was a positive role model to her students.
the story gets out to the media. suddenly they don't look so good. they didn't support their own staff. they invite the teacher back and you as a teacher say? >> no. >> that's right. yeah. got your back for you right here. personally, i would do the same thing. you can't support me when the heat's on, obviously i can't trust you. i can't be here. it's a horrible story. it's a sad story. it should have had a much more positive ending. here's where i go as a teacher. you should have read the darn book and then the controversy would be over but, no, couldn't be bothered with that. a knee jerk reaction, rags yal stereotyping, away we go, okay? same sort of thing that people are afraid of happening with what? >> "uncle tom's cabin." >> little vanna white for you. when we're talking about this, we're not talking about an issue that's about these two books. it's an issue that has not gone
away. sadly one of the unique and sad things about our legacy, we have a racial intolerance that we are still experiencing today, however sad. language is one of those places where we find out how exactly that bond still is. i think i'm about done with these. i'm going to take these off. do i see a hand? please, go right ahead. >> >> i just want to make the point really quickly, was it concern? i completely disagree with kevin specifically because when we were talking -- >> from what point. >> i'm going to say that exactly. when we were talking about being in the library and not allowing the children to read certain books, i disagree poignantly because emmitt till was a child, malcolm x was a child. i'm sure as heck they heard the word nigger and much worse words used der rog